Unwellness can sneak up on you and your body in a myriad of ways. Some of these ways may be in the form of major health conditions, while in other cases it’s something simple that you can easily correct yourself with a little extra self-care at home. One of these sneaky ways is through electrolytes imbalance or dehydration, which can damage your body (or just make you feel unhealthy) in a very subtle— or not so subtle— way.
Do you drink enough water every day? Do you get enough electrolytes? It’s possible these aren’t things you think about enough (a lot of us don’t!) and they could be weighing you down without you even knowing it! The symptoms can be very silent and imperceptible. Some are noticeable, while others are hardly noticeable at all. But all are potentially damaging.
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance happens to all of us. But when it becomes a chronic problem, think of it like skipping oil changes in your car, or constantly running low on gas. It’s hard on your system! And eventually, electrolyte imbalance and dehydration will lead to other more serious conditions. Here’s everything you need to know about electrolytes, and more.
What are electrolytes?
The term electrolytes may sound like some complicated or “advanced” aspect of health, when in fact it’s quite simple. You may have heard of them in relation to things like sports drinks or powders, and as if they are some complicated “formula.” However, electrolytes are simple nutrients we consume regularly— though it’s especially important to consume them in the fluids we drink.
The most common electrolytes of the body are in fact everyday elements, minerals or micronutrients you need to eat and get enough of in order to stay healthy, hydrated, and replenished. These are called “electro-” lytes because they literally help your body keep a type of electric charge that brings you energy and keeps the body running at top-notch. This “charge” is sustained also through the fluids of your body (which is why fluid electrolytes are important), such as your blood stream, lymph, urine, or fluid-holding tissues.
That said, when you really boil down what electrolytes are (and perhaps even how to source or create your own), a “complete” electrolyte formula is made up of a strong acid, a strong base, and ionic salts.
Micronutrients that are electrolytes include:
- Hydrogen phosphate
- …and more
Vitamins that boost the uptake of electrolyte nutrients include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Why electrolytes are important
Electrolytes are not to be underestimated! No, you don’t need them only if you’re an athlete, exercise often, or lead an active lifestyle. Everyone needs plenty of electrolytes and to stay hydrated and to be healthy— and that even goes if you’re a homebody, lead a sedentary lifestyle, or work in an office.
Electrolyte imbalance is important to avoid. Because, inversely, electrolyte balance is crucial to maintaining the strength and function of many different systems. Dehydration and lack of electrolytes (or an imbalance), on the other hand, can stress out these systems— which can come in the form of a lack of water, fluids, potassium, salts (sodium), magnesium, and getting enough of the vitamins that help boost the uptake of these vital nutrients.
Parts of health, organs, and systems that may be affected by chronic electrolyte imbalance include:
- Cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels)
- Brain and nervous system
- Mental health and mood
- Lymphatic system (immunity)
- Muscular system
- …and more
According to Medical News Today, you need electrolytes so that your nerves can send signals, and also so your body can move nutrients into cells, remove waste products, balance water levels, and even help muscles to expand and contract adequately.
What are signs of electrolyte imbalance?
How do you know if you have an electrolyte imbalance? When dealing with a less serious case of dehydration or imbalance, the signs and symptoms may be a little more subtle— unless you’re looking for them. With very serious electrolyte imbalance signs however, these will be very severe and impossible to ignore, and is very much considered a medical emergency! (Make sure to contact an emergency room if experiencing severe electrolyte imbalance).
That said, most instances of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance are mild, and just take a little extra consumption of fluids or electrolytes to restore health and vitality again. Here are some signs to look out for and keep an eye on if you think you might not be getting enough water, electrolytes, or nutrients into your daily routine.
Signs of electrolyte imbalance and dehydration side effects:
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fast heartbeat
- Confusion, dizziness
- Mood swing and irritability
- …and more
Some common issues that people struggle with could be connected to electrolyte imbalance, like dehydration and back pain. Without proper fluid intake on the regular, muscular problems could be at the root of (or worsen) chronic lower back pain or “lumbago” in some people.
Dehydration causes headaches and migraines also, in some instances, which may be considered the most common symptom of all. Deal with chronic headaches all too often, with no relief? Try drinking more water and getting more electrolytes!
Signs of severe electrolyte imbalance (contact a health professional right away):
- Headache that won’t go away
- Extreme lethargy
- Slurred speech
- Excessive vomiting
- Fast and/or irregular heartbeat
- Severe mood swing
If severe signs of electrolyte imbalance continue without replenishment of fluids or electrolytes, they could end in seizures or coma. Definitely don’t overlook symptoms if they are severe! Dehydration causes high blood pressure also in cases where it is chronic, ongoing, and consistent in someone’s life who simply does not drink enough water or take in enough electrolytes— and this is terrible for heart health, and all of health, in many ways.
What foods help replenish electrolytes?
Besides drinking plenty of water, low-sugar fruit juices, sport drinks, or electrolyte formulas, how can we keep up on our electrolyte needs through the foods we eat? Is it even possible? The answer is yes, of course— electrolytes in food help quite a bit. Especially eating plant based foods that have a high water content, plus plenty of minerals, which can replenish electrolytes. Vitamin C high foods also help a great deal, as they boost the uptake of electrolyte minerals and contain acids, too.
Electrolyte-rich foods include:
- Acerola cherries
- Amla (Indian gooseberry)
- Citrus (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc.)
- Prickly pear (nopal)
- Spring radishes
Can nutrients and home remedies help dehydration?
Herbal home remedies, supplements, and nutrients may also help boost the body’s uptake of electrolytes, helping it combat and balance against dehydration.
- Acerola cherry supplement (vitamin C)
- Aloe vera juice (not gel)
- Chicory root or dandelion (high in Vitamin K)
- Elderberry (high in vitamin C)
- Ginger root
- Prickly pear (nopal) cactus supplements
Don’t let electrolyte imbalance or dehydration sneak up on you— or become a chronic problem, or cause unneeded dangerous damage to your body! Your heart, brain, and even muscular health depend on it. In addition to eating electrolyte-rich foods or vitamin C high foods, of course make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and fluids daily— anywhere around 8 glasses per day.